Belgium Museum Will Tell Story of Red Star Line That Carried Jews to America

Chronicling the Ships that Brought Millions to Freedom

Precious Cargo: Ships carried people, petroleum and grain.
John S. Johnston/Library of Congress
Precious Cargo: Ships carried people, petroleum and grain.

By Molly Arost Staub

Published June 04, 2013, issue of June 07, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The story of Jewish immigration to America will soon be retold in Antwerp, Belgium.

A museum dedicated to the Red Star Line, the shipping operation that carried more than 2 million people to the United States from 1873 to 1934 — many of them Jews — will open in Antwerp in September.

Founded in Philadelphia in the 1870s, the Red Star Line was a joint operation founded by a local businessman along with two Belgian investors to transport petroleum, grain and people to and from Europe. The line had ports in Philadelphia, New York City, Antwerp, and in Liverpool and Southampton in the United Kingdom. While many first- and second-class passengers boarded the Red Star Line as tourists, the ships also accommodated hundreds of steerage passengers each — mostly Jews who were fleeing Eastern Europe.

Plans for the Red Star Line Museum began in 2005, when the city of Antwerp purchased three decaying buildings on the Antwerp harbor that originally served the ship line. At the time of the purchase, the buildings were owned by a private harbor company, which had slated them for redevelopment as apartments.

“Some people in the city started to realize that these are historical buildings, and we can’t just put apartments there,” said Ben Van Alboom, project manager of the Red Star Line Museum, who is promoting the museum in the United States.

The vice mayor of Antwerp, Philip Heylen, pushed the project forward; about 85 percent of the cost of the $25 million facility was covered by public funding.

In the museum, a timeline of human migration includes notes on 20 famous migrants and then the historical exhibition includes 20 personal stories of passengers who traveled on the Red Star Line. Composer Irving Berlin was a passenger and appears in the timeline; his family loaned his transposing piano (a rare kind of piano that automatically transposes music from one key to another) to the museum. Albert Einstein was another famous Red Star traveler; a letter he penned on Red Star Line stationery announcing his resignation from the Prussian Academy of Sciences is also on loan at the museum. He apparently wrote it aboard ship as he fled the Nazis.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.